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Tiny Satellite Will Use Solar Sail to Investigate Asteroid

Illustration exhibiting NEA Scout with the photo voltaic sail deployed because it flies by its asteroid vacation spot. NASA

Following the success in 2019 of Bill Nye and the Planetary Society’s solar sail craft MildSail 2, NASA plans to launch its personal photo voltaic sail challenge to analyze near-Earth asteroids.

The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) is a small satellite tv for pc across the measurement of a shoebox that may sail by area powered by daylight. The {hardware} will include a chrome steel growth construction throughout which a skinny, aluminum-coated plastic sail shall be stretched. The whole space coated by the sail is round that of a racquetball courtroom, and as photons from the solar bounce off the shiny floor, they may propel the craft ahead.

As wacky as this concept sounds — it was made well-known by, amongst others, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke — it has been proven to work in low-Earth orbit by the MildSail challenge. Now NASA will take this one step additional by deploying a photo voltaic sail in deep area.

“NEA Scout will be America’s first interplanetary mission using solar sail propulsion,” said Les Johnson, principal expertise investigator for the mission at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “There have been several sail tests in Earth orbit, and we are now ready to show we can use this new type of spacecraft propulsion to go new places and perform important science.”

The large benefit of this methodology of propulsion is that the craft doesn’t want to hold gas, making it a really environment friendly option to ship small lots lengthy distances.

“This type of propulsion is especially useful for small, lightweight spacecraft that cannot carry large amounts of conventional rocket propellant,” Johnson mentioned.

NEA Scout spacecraft in Gravity Off-load Fixture, System Test configuration at NASA Marshall.
NEA Scout spacecraft in Gravity Off-load Fixture, System Test configuration at NASA Marshall. NASA

NEA Scout will catch a trip on NASA’s deliberate Artemis I mission across the moon, being deployed together with a number of different small CubeSats. Once it’s launched, the craft will use its photo voltaic sail to journey to a near-Earth asteroid to take high-resolution photos of the asteroid up shut.

“The images gathered by NEA Scout will provide critical information on the asteroid’s physical properties such as orbit, shape, volume, rotation, the dust and debris field surrounding it, plus its surface properties,” mentioned Julie Castillo-Rogez, the mission’s principal science investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Learning about small asteroids, corresponding to these lower than 100 meters throughout, is essential as a result of asteroids of this measurement may be probably harmful to Earth. Somewhat counterintuitively, very massive asteroids are thought-about less of a threat, as they’re comparatively simple to identify after they come near Earth. But smaller asteroids are more durable to determine.

“Despite their size, some of these small asteroids could pose a threat to Earth,” mentioned Dr. Jim Stott, NEA Scout expertise challenge supervisor. “Understanding their properties could help us develop strategies for reducing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact.”

The NEA Scout is scheduled to launch on the Artemis I mission in November 2021.

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